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Celebrating the Negro Leagues

by Mike Whiteman

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As you may know, 2020 is the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues. Prior to this time, many African American players kept out of the Major Leagues due to the color of their skin distinguished themselves while playing on barnstorming teams. Future Hall of Famers like Pete Hill, Pop Lloyd and Smokey Joe Williams were among the stars of the era.

Perhaps the marquee franchise was the Chicago American Giants, formed by Rube Foster in 1911. Foster was already known as an elite pitcher, and became highly regarded for his management and marketing savvy as well. The Giants were one of the first teams consisting of African American players who were successful on the and off the field.

It was sometimes a struggle though being an independent team, as they worked with booking agents to schedule games, and many felt they were taken advantage of by a system which gave them little leverage. Yet many clubs for the longest time resisted the loss of the autonomy and independence that came with entering into an organized arrangement. The persuasive Foster eventually convinced other teams to join together, and the Negro National League was formed in 1920.

Led by future Hall of Famer Cristobal Torriente (.411/.479/.606) and a big three on the mound of Tom Williams (12-4, 1.83), Dave Brown (13-3, 1.82) and Tom Johnson (11-0, 1.84), the American Giants cruised to an easy NNL pennant in the league’s first season of operation. The team repeated in 1921 and 1922 before yielding the crown for the next three years to the Kansas City Monarchs. In 1926 infielder “Gentleman Dave” Malarcher took the reigns of Giants from Foster, whose health was failing, and guided them back to the top of the league in 1926 and 1927.

Things didn’t always go smoothly for the NNL, and it actually shut the doors in 1931 due to the Great Depression. It reopened later in the decade as the Negro American League (another circuit calling itself the NNL started up in 1933) and continued to feature players who despite not being allowed to compete in the Major Leagues would later receive the ultimate recognition of enshrinement in Cooperstown.

Want to learn more about the Negro Leagues? Here are some great resources on the web:

http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/history/mlb_negro_leagues_teams.jsp – Brief summaries of the great Negro League teams.

http://baseballguru.com/bbnegro1.html – Lots of good stuff from multiple sources.

http://www.seamheads.com/NegroLgs/index.php – Want stats? They have the stats.

Stay tuned to Start Spreading the News for more Negro League content during this 100th anniversary year!

#NegroLeagues #RubeFoster

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